Need something to hook your audience’s attention from the get-go and open your show with a bang? Here are 5 ideas for warm-up routines by Leslie Ann Akin that you can use right away to get your show off to a fantastic start.
Remember when theatres showed Tom and Jerry cartoons before the feature film? Remember the last time you went to the circus? If you arrived 20 minutes early, you saw clowns in the ring doing come-in. They were getting the audience’s attention, firing them up for the main event.
Whether your warm-up is for another performer’s show (after all, clowns are tailor-made creatures for attracting attention and getting laughs!) or for your own show, it is a crucial element that makes a difference in how the audience will respond throughout the rest of the performance.
Warm-ups prepare the audience to focus and realize It’s Showtime! They set the stage for the audience to begin laughing, clapping, participating and they give the audience a chance to take you in. In this respect, warm-ups serve as the audience’s introduction to your character.
And if you want to get this introduction right and captivate your audience from the start, here are some warm-up ideas and routines you can use.
Simple-Silly-Slapstick Tray Table Routine
This is a routine superb for beginner clowns and experienced performers. It's a routine that evolves and can get even better over time as you gain experience and learn more about physical comedy. I developed this bit of baffling buffoonery during my early days of performing in 1976 and it always brought gobs of laughs.
This is a classic, silly physical comedy bit. You will get several minutes of razzle-dazzle from this wacky warm-up.
You'll need a metal TV tray table. You can find them at yard sales or second-hand stores. The base/legs fold and are separate from the tray.
Here's the comedic set-up, the way I performed it at birthday parties before I purchased my suitcase table: Enter carrying your prop bag and the unassembled tray table. Introduce yourself and greet the birthday child, expressing how thrilled you are to be there for their special day.
“Are you ready for the show? I'll get this table ready.”
Can you see it coming? I set my prop bag and tray top off to the side and hold up the legs/frame. After looking it over, I step into the floppy frame and get caught in it. I'll walk a few steps forward, then backward, looking perplexed. By this time, the children enjoy telling me I'm doing it wrong.
I step out of the frame, look at it, then place it over my head, again walking back and forth. Then I notice the tray top, put that on my head while the frame is on my shoulders. All the while, the children are trying to direct the bumbling clown.
This funny business continues even after I've got the tray put together, but it's still upside down with the tray facing the floor. “We did it!” Again the children love directing me as I bumble through setting the tray up.
Now it's time to ask the birthday child to come forward to set the tray table into the right position. They get to be the star and earn applause for being an outstanding assistant.
Now you can drape the tray with festive fabric and use it for props during your show.
This routine is inexpensive, lightweight and easy to tote. Entering as your clown character with a tray table and setting it up as if you were not a clown would not be funny.
When you're in true clown character, you're setting up your show while inspiring snickers and silliness through predicaments you find yourself in.
At picnics, fairs, and malls, your warm-up may be one of the few methods by which you can draw a crowd for your show. These warm-ups should be highly visual and dynamic. Simplicity and audience participation are the main ingredients of good warm-ups for clown shows.
My warm-ups are usually 3 to 5 minutes long, sometimes shorter. Following are a few other ideas from my experiences.
When I performed school shows, I poked my head from behind the curtain just before the show. The children giggled and squealed with delight. This was just a teaser, short and funny, and got the audience fired up, anticipating what would happen next.
Use Your Other Talents
Whatever the main part of your show is, you may want to try using a talent other than your specialty for your audience warm-up. I’ve learned this makes my act more versatile and offers me great opportunities for developing new material.
Warm-Ups for Young Children
Instead of using your usual warm-up for children under five years old, you may want to use a friendly-looking soft puppet, a spring animal or some sponge magic and work closely with the children. They will get used to you and you can discover and deal with any frightened ones right off the bat.
Magic Word Warm-up
If you haven’t used a warm-up previously, here’s a simple but very effective one you might try. Ask the children to shout out a magic word together. At the end of the school year, my popular magic words are Summer Vacation! At a picnic, you might use the name of the sponsor or company. My all-time favorite magic words are Cadabra-Abra!
Seasoned performers do takes in threes, so directing the children to say the words three times, each time yelling louder, can create a lot of energy. On the third try, you could magically produce something, like spring flowers as the magic words are shouted.
This is a visual climax to the children’s loudest attempt at shouting the magic words. Instead of doing magic, you might want to take a fall and ooze right into a backward roll as if the children had shouted you into doing it.
What you decide to practice and perform for your warm-ups is limited only by your imagination. You could probably do two or three minutes of hysterical physical comedy just by trying to take off your gloves, coat or hat.
Or you could learn to throw a few spiffy hat spins and tricks, use puppetry or ventriloquism, juggle, or spin a plate.
Whatever routine you choose, remember warm-ups will make a difference in the success of your shows. Don’t leave out this time-tested technique.
Have warm-up routines that have worked for you and you want to share with other kids entertainers? Share them in the comments section below. We’d love to hear them!